Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Even the strongest cultural markers can evolve with continuous rethinking.

Consider Germany and Das Auto. Long before Henry Ford there was Gottlieb Daimler. His work (and that of others, including Karl Benz) fueled a homegrown industry so supercharged with innovation and precision that it became a global industry’s aspirational standard.

Germany is now within days of a ruling on whether to ban diesel cars from its big cities. (Yes, Rudolf Diesel was German, too.) In 2016 the German government passed a nonbinding resolution to make all newly registered cars “zero emission” by 2030. The Bundesrat got a hard nudge from the 2015 US testing scandal involving Volkswagen and particulate emissions.

All of this means sacrifice, workforce disruption, cultural transformation. (It’s hard to imagine the Autobahn as anything other than a showcase of internal combustion in its thoroughbred forms.)

But it’s also possible to discern an underlying sense of pride in leadership, of adjusting to the times. Germany is not alone, even on the automotive front. How universal is that kind of thinking – how transferable – as other nations struggle with how to evolve on other issues?

Said Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida this week at a town hall meeting on an American crisis: “American politics is the only part of our lives where changing your mind based on new information is a bad thing.”

Now to our five stories for your Friday, highlighting protection at schools and outreach that’s familial, local, and extended across old national divides. 

1. ‘Arm the good guys’? After school shootings, evaluating a refrain

The inclination of good teachers is to nurture, prepare, and empower. Whose role is it to protect the environment in which they work – and in ways that don’t introduce new grounds for insecurity?

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Kentucky state Sen. Steve West regrets even having to consider a measure to put armed marshals in schools. “I don’t want to be filing this bill,” he says, but “we’re at a line where we need to do something to address the problem.” Five school shootings so far in 2018 have resulted in serious physical injury or death – including one in Kentucky in January and the fatal shooting of 17 students and teachers in Florida last week – and Mr. West’s is one of several measures that share one basic feature: more guns in and around schools. Sheriff’s deputies now patrol schools with assault rifles in Florida's Broward County. On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott proposed making a security officer mandatory in all public schools, as well as raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21. In Alabama, a lawmaker has filed a bill that would arm public school teachers. The Maryland legislature is considering a similar bill. The debate over armed security in schools has reached a roar, but when it comes to preventing school shootings, experts say there is no conclusive evidence on their effect. There is anecdotal evidence of officers stopping school shooters, such as a 2014 shooting at an Oregon high school. But there is anecdotal evidence of the opposite: During the shooting in Florida, an armed deputy waited outside while the massacre occurred.


‘Arm the good guys’? After school shootings, evaluating a refrain

The urgent drumbeat has swelled since Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida became the latest school to be invaded by a shooter armed with an AR-15: We have to do something. Everyone from the students themselves to their parents, the Broward County sheriff, state lawmakers, and the president agree on the need for more measures to ensure confidence that children can make it home safely from class.

What that something should look like, though, is a matter of intense debate. The students, their parents, and gun-control advocates want a ban on assault-style weapons. In red states and the White House, the solution being raised with greater frequency is putting good guys with guns in US schools.

That’s what Kentucky state Sen. Steve West is proposing. The Republican lawmaker filed his state’s bill the same day a student opened fire in a western Kentucky high school in late January, killing two students and injuring 18 other people.

“My bill will not save the world,” he says in an interview. “This is a true stop-gap measure. [We’re] just trying our best to fill in a hole and fill that hole in school safety in Kentucky.”

Speaking in his office in Frankfort – a few weeks after the Marshall County shooting in Kentucky and a week before the Broward County shooting in Florida – he regrets even having to consider the measure, which would give school districts the ability to place full-time armed "marshals" in schools. The marshals could be former cops or soldiers, or teachers and staff with adequate training

“I don’t want to be filing this bill. I wish we didn’t have to address this situation,” he says, but “we’re at a line where we need to do something to address the problem.”

Five school shootings so far in 2018 have resulted in serious physical injury or death – including the fatal shooting of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman – and West’s is one of several measures states have immediately begun to explore.

These share one basic feature: more guns in and around schools. In Florida’s Broward County, sheriff’s deputies have been ordered to patrol schools with assault rifles. On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott proposed a raft of measures, including raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21. The Republican governor called for a mandatory law enforcement officer in every public school and for mandatory "active shooter training" for students and faculty. In Alabama, a lawmaker has filed a bill that would arm the state’s public school teachers. The Maryland state legislature is considering a similar bill, and many school districts in the state already have armed school resource officers (SROs).

Indeed, while the debate over armed security in schools has reached a roar in the nine days since the Parkland, Fla., shooting, security officers in general have quietly become increasingly prevalent in US schools. But when it comes to preventing school shootings, experts say there is no conclusive evidence on their effect. In fact, research raises more questions: What level of training should security officers receive before being armed on campus? Where should the guns be kept? Should officers have other disciplinary powers and be able to arrest students?

There is anecdotal evidence of officers engaging and stopping school shooters, such as a 2014 shooting at an Oregon high school. But there is anecdotal evidence of the opposite happening: During the shooting in Florida, an armed SRO waited outside while the massacre occurred, the Broward County sheriff says. “Devastated, sick to my stomach, there are no words,” Sheriff Scott Israel said Thursday, announcing that the SRO resigned.

“This is a fairly consistent response to acts of school violence,” says Jason Nance, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law who focuses his research on school discipline and police in schools, says of the impulse to add armed security to schools.

“The problem in my view,” he adds, “is that these are not really adequate long-term solutions to promote safe learning environments.”

'Terrible' but infrequent

Law enforcement officers – particularly in the form of SROs, police officers specially trained for schools – have become quietly prevalent in schools across the country. In 1975 only 1 percent of US schools had an officer assigned to them. By 2007 that figure had risen to 40 percent. Research on their effectiveness cuts both ways. Crime on school property drops when SROs are present, some studies show. Recent research, however, has shown that a stronger law enforcement presence in schools can lead to more students being diverted into the criminal justice system for relatively minor offenses previously handled by teachers.

While the idea of having a law enforcement officer patrolling a school is increasingly accepted, whether they should be armed is still an open question. Officers in Boston and New York, for example, are unarmed, with a Boston police official saying in 2014 that even allowing officers to carry pepper spray “would drive a wedge between our students and the school police.”

No one really knows what the best approach is, at least scientifically. A 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service found “conflicting conclusions about whether SRO programs are effective at reducing school violence” and that “research does not address whether SRO programs deter school shootings.”

Ryan Hermens/The Paducah Sun/AP
People, including students and a classmate who was shot during the Marshall County High School shooting on Jan. 23, attend a vigil for those injured and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, in Benton, Ky., Feb. 15, 2018. Kentucky is considering a bill that would have armed marshals in schools.

The problem researchers have is that while school shootings undoubtedly happen too often, they “don’t happen frequently enough that it’s very easy to predict what’s going to cause them,” and thus whether armed security personnel would have a meaningful impact in preventing them, says Emily Owens, a criminologist at the University of California, Irvine, who has researched school police programs.

“Social scientists are in an uncomfortable position that this is a terrible event that doesn’t happen frequently enough to lend it to analytical tools,” she adds, a position that’s made more difficult by the federal government’s restricting research into gun violence since 1996.

Some researchers point to what is done in other professions.

“Prison guards don’t carry guns, for very good reason,” writes Philip Cook, a professor emeritus at Duke University and an expert on both gun control and educational policy, in an email to the Monitor.

“Common sense suggests it’s a bad idea to introduce guns into schools,” he adds.

For their part, students from Marjory Stoneman say they don't believe that arming teachers – as the president suggested this week – would prevent other students from enduring what they have gone through. One junior says having a gun in the classroom would make her uncomfortable.

“We all think it is a bad idea. I only know two people out of the hundreds of us who went to Tallahassee  [to protest for gun control] who think it's a good idea,” says junior Casey Sherman, who was in Spanish class on Valentine’s Day when the alarm went off. “The money that would have to go to training the teachers could be put to better use. We think putting that funding – instead of in-depth training for teachers – put it toward better preparing officers for these types of situations so they could better react.”

“And God forbid the teacher hits a student,” the 17-year-old adds.

What some researchers say they would prefer to see are resources put toward preventing students from opening fire in a school in the first place, by investing in counselors and social workers who could help students work through problems in nonviolent ways.

“It’s not clear that [SROs] promote safe learning climates, but we have a lot of research on what does promote safe learning climates. It has much more to do with the quality of relationships between students and teachers, and between teachers and parents,” says Professor Nance.

“That to me is a better solution,” he adds, “rather than have an [SRO] gun a student down after injuries have already taken place.”

Kentucky's proposed solution

A school marshal in Kentucky would only be allowed to have a small firearm, and the gun would be kept in a lockbox “until the need arises,” says Mr. West. They would also need to have a concealed-carry permit. To get such a permit in Kentucky a person would have to take a gun training course. However, while the permit expires after five years, the certificate is good for life.

“You’re putting yourself in a situation where someone maybe five years ago had a firearm training class but now they have a weapon in a school,” says Professor Owens.

West, a Republican, says he would want to leave individual school districts as much latitude as possible to set their own training requirements for marshals. He does admit, however, that “we do need probably to step [them] up a notch.”

“The ideal situation for this bill is ex-military, ex-police,” he adds.

For their part, veterans would probably be more than happy to do the job, according to Kentuckian Andrew Drury, who says he served two tours in Iraq for the US Army.

“I would say there’s a ton of veterans that are bored and would happily volunteer to stand in front of a school, armed,” says Mr. Drury, speaking on a warm February morning in Lexington.

“I would trust them more than I trust anybody else,” he adds. “And they’d volunteer; you wouldn’t even have to pay them.”

But for some educators, that raises the issue of having people on school grounds who, while trained in handling firearms and dangerous situations, are not trained on interacting day-in day-out with children.

Standing outside William G. Conkwright Elementary School in Winchester, Ky., on a frosty morning last week, Sherry Browning, the assistant principal, says she wouldn’t be opposed to having armed marshals – so long as it’s someone who is “specially” trained given “the unexpectedness of [children’s] reactions.”

“They need to be trained in all aspects of safety,” Ms. Browning adds, “but if they were going to be in our building every day they would need to be trained in interacting with children so children wouldn’t be afraid.”

National momentum building

At the national level, momentum for armed security at schools seems to be building.

President Trump hosted a “school safety roundtable” on Thursday with state and local officials, taking to Twitter beforehand to say that, in addition to “pushing comprehensive background checks [for gun purchases] with an emphasis on mental health,” he also supported arming “highly trained, gun adept teachers/coaches.”

Later that day, in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre said that every community in America “must come together to implement the very best strategy to harden their schools, including effective, trained, armed security that will absolutely protect every innocent child in this country.”

It represents something of a change of heart for Mr. Trump, who two days before the massacre in Florida had proposed a 2019 budget that would cut millions of dollars from counseling and violence-prevention programs in schools. The budget also proposes a 50 percent cut to the Justice Department’s COPS Hiring Program, which among other things gives funding to local agencies to hire SROs.

In Frankfort, West says he would like schools in the state to have both armed marshals and more counseling. But what he wants above all – and what he has wanted for decades – is to do something. Because much as active shooter drills have become routine for America’s students, pushing for armed security in schools has become routine for him.

He recalls the first time he filed a school safety bill. It was 2016, and he was motivated then by the 1997 fatal shooting of three students during a prayer meeting at another Kentucky high school.

“If we don’t do something as a state, if we don’t do something in our schools, the same thing is going to happen,” he recalls telling them.

Swamped by an arduous budget battle, however, the bill never saw the light of day. He expected it to suffer a similar fate this legislative session. Then the shooting in Marshall County happened.

“All of a sudden it was Job 1 again,” he says.

Staff writer Story Hinckley contributed to this report from Boston.

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2. As 'Black Panther' hits screens in Africa, 'the hero is all of us'

In this piece, our continent-roaming Africa bureau chief explores African perspectives on the blockbuster film set in a fictional nation there. When asked about what delighted her, she noted the powerful Senegalese score. Then she went all Fulbright scholar on us: “The Dora Milaje, the king’s all-female cadre of bodyguards,” she enthused in an email, “are based on a 17th-century group of female warriors from the Dahomey civilization in Benin.”

Cara Anna/AP
The cast of 'Black Panther' arrives at the film’s South Africa première Feb. 16 in Johannesburg.

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Wakanda, the kingdom at the heart of the Marvel movie “Black Panther,” is a gilded city-state that looks like "Star Wars" met Singapore in the center of Timbuktu. Its warriors dress in traditional blankets from Lesotho and checkered East African prints. Its skyscrapers look like sleek modernist updates of Mali’s spiked earthen towers. Its rocket-scientist princess blasts South African music while she tinkers with her inventions, and Wakandans speak to each other in isiXhosa, a South African language. Wakanda may be fictional. But its African influences are not. And for African audiences, the impact of seeing their continent’s diversity reflected on screen – instead of familiar Hollywood stereotypes – is very real, too. “In South Africa, we’ve been watching these movies all our lives – 'Batman,' 'Superman,' 'Captain America' – and every time the mask comes off it’s a white man,” says John Kani, who plays the father of Wakanda’s king. “But this time you take off the mask and the hero is me. The hero is all of us in Africa and the diaspora. It’s a remarkable thing.”


As 'Black Panther' hits screens in Africa, 'the hero is all of us'

“Tell me something,” demands Ulysses Klaue, a one-armed white South African arms dealer, in one of the early scenes of Marvel’s “Black Panther.” “What do you know about Wakanda?”

“Textiles, shepherds, cool outfits,” replies Everett Ross, the CIA agent interrogating him, flippantly describing the fictional African kingdom at the heart of the film. “It’s a third world country.”

On a recent afternoon in a Johannesburg movie theater, the audience laughed appreciatively. It was a biting African stereotype – the kind all too common in Hollywood – but for once, it didn’t sting.

That was because this time, everyone watching knew, the joke was on the white guys. In the “Black Panther” universe, after all, Wakanda is secretly the world’s most advanced civilization, a gilded city-state that looks like Star Wars met Singapore in the center of Timbuktu.

“In South Africa, we’ve been watching these movies all our lives – ‘Batman,’ ‘Superman,’ ‘Captain America’ – and every time the mask comes off it’s a white man,” says John Kani, a celebrated South African theater actor and writer who plays the father of Wakanda’s king. “But this time you take off the mask and the hero is me. The hero is all of us in Africa and the diaspora. It’s a remarkable thing.”

But if many here saw themselves in the film’s heroes, some also saw glimmers of themselves in its villain, a man whose struggle for racial justice holds many parallels to African history. Still, for audiences across Africa, “Black Panther” has inspired widespread celebration, offering up a world that many here have never before seen on the big screen: their own. The film set new box office records in East and West Africa on its opening weekend, and a week later continues to screen to sold out audiences across the continent. Worldwide, it has already earned more than $427 million.

“It was so unexpected, I can’t even begin to describe it,” said Nomthandazo Hlanguza, a banker, as she walked out of a Johannesburg cinema earlier this week. “It’s exactly the opposite of everything we’re taught to think of as African.”


Indeed, the fictional Wakanda, a place that was never colonized and made wealthy by its mineral resources, feels like a kind of futuristic alt-Africa, a vision of what the continent might look like without European domination (and with the help of some otherworldly superhero technology).

“Sometimes we think that we have two choices to make in Africa,” wrote Anyang’ Nyong’o, a Kenyan politician and the father of the film’s star Lupita Nyong’o, in a Nairobi newspaper this month. “Choice one: We maintain our traditions and cultures and stay backward forever. Choice two: We modernize by becoming westernized and forgetting our cultural traditions which, by their very nature so we think, are stuck in the past. The experience of the Wakanda people teaches us otherwise.”

Meanwhile, the film’s repeated nods to the continent’s real-life languages, fashion, architecture, and music are a raucous celebration of the Africa that is. Wakanda’s warriors dress in traditional woven Basotho blankets from Lesotho and checkered east African Maasai prints. Their skyscrapers look like sleek modernist updates of the spiked earthen towers of Timbuktu. Its teenage rocket-scientist princess blasts South African house music while she tinkers with her inventions, and Wakandans speak to each other in isiXhosa, a South African language.

“At the premiere in Johannesburg, the first time you hear my son speak to me in isiXhosa, the audience erupted,” Mr. Kani says, recalling last week’s opening here. “At that moment it stopped being just a movie. It became something that connected us all.”

Uneasy echoes

But if African audiences saw themselves in Wakanda and the film’s heroes – the king T’Challa and his chiseled ensemble of Wakanda’s warriors and royals – many also saw glimmers of their own experience in that of Black Panther’s nemesis N’Jadaka, aka Erik “Killmonger” Stevens.

Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, is T’Challa’s cousin, who grew up in a rough corner of Oakland, Calif., marred by drugs and violence. He returns to Wakanda bent on using the kingdom’s formidable resources to free oppressed black people around the world.

“Where I’m from, when black folks started revolutions, they never had the resources to fight their oppressors,” he explains. “That ends today.”

In the black-and-white moral universe of the superhero movie, Killmonger is indisputably the bad guy – but for Africans whose recent history is littered with violent uprisings against white rule, his experience has shades of gray.

“I think he left the audience very conflicted – he was a hero and a villain at the same time,” says Rashieda Witter, an art historian and cultural critic in Johannesburg. “Even if they’d disagree with his methods, I think a lot of people would agree with his idea that an African country with those kind of resources should be able to use them to uplift other countries.”

For Kani, meanwhile, Killmonger’s presence in the film was a reflection on the choices black communities make every day.

When he first read the script, he says, he thought of South Africa in the years after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. Should the country set up tribunals to punish apartheid’s villains and send them to jail, many asked? “But we decided ultimately that we didn’t want to do that because we didn’t want to hand over the baggage of our past to future generations,” he says. “In a way, Wakanda had the same choice to make.”

But he says the film’s politics aren’t as important as the simple fact of its existence. Now, he says, there’s indisputable proof that an African superhero can be a blockbuster success in America.

“Some people have said to me, this film is anti-revolutionary,” he says. “And I say, ‘Oh please, don’t overthink it. It’s a comic book story.’ ”


3. When raising an athlete becomes an Olympian act of caring

From the bobsledding niece of a pro baseball player to the daughter of Olympic rowers, a number of this year’s Winter Olympians were influenced by athletically accomplished family members. Perhaps surprisingly, that doesn’t always translate to added pressure.

Giovanni Auletta/AP
US alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin shares a smile with her mother, Eileen, at the end of a women's World Cup slalom competition in Lienz, Austria, in December. (Shiffrin won first place, and has won a medal at the Winter Games in South Korea.)

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Before biathlete Emily Dreissigacker headed to Pyeongchang, South Korea, she asked her parents for advice. “Take lasting pictures, not just Snapchats,” they said. They would know. They were Olympic rowers, who only let their children watch TV when the Games were on. From the biathlon to bobsledding to figure skating, many parents are accomplished athletes themselves, even fellow Olympians. That can be a huge asset: They know firsthand what it takes to be successful, and can help foster that in up-and-coming athletes at home. At times, it’s too much help. Some are critical of parents who are heavily invested in their children’s careers, saying it can become unclear whose dream is being pursued. But more often than not, athlete-parents urge patience and a healthy perspective, letting their kids not only excel at a sport but enjoy it, too. “One of the best pieces of advice [my dad has] always given me was keep it fun,” says biathlete Susan Dunklee, whose father was a two-time Olympian in cross-country skiing. “He held me back a little bit. And I didn’t like being held back at the time…. But he knew what he was doing.”


When raising an athlete becomes an Olympian act of caring

When defending Olympic champion David Wise captured another gold in the skiing halfpipe Thursday, his dad was there to see it. Not to prod or hover, but just to cheer. Just to be his dad.

And that represented a different kind of victory.

Tom Wise, a former college ski racer, had been very motivated to help his son succeed on snow. The motive was right, but his approach was sometimes a little too intense, said the younger Wise before the Olympics.

“At one point ... I had to be like, ‘Dad, I’d rather you be my dad than my coach – I have a coach, whose job is coaching me. I have you, whose job is dadding me. I don’t need you to be coaching me and dadding me,” said Wise. “Once we found that balance, it improved drastically. And my dad is still, to this day, and always will be, my biggest fan, my biggest supporter.”

Wise is one of many athletes at the Games who come from families of accomplished athletes, some of them Olympians in their own right. Those relatives are often a huge asset, knowing what it takes to be successful and helping to foster that in their up-and-coming athletes at home. While their example or expectations can sometimes add extra pressure, more often than not they urge patience and a healthy perspective that enables athletes to not only excel at their sport but enjoy it, too.

There’s Friday’s gold medalist Alina Zagitova of Russia, whose hockey-player father waited a year to name her, before he was inspired by Alina Kabaeva, a two-time Olympic medalist in rhythmic gymnastics. Finnish figure skater Emmi Peltonen was also born to a hockey-playing dad – hers is a four-time Olympian, who always reminds her that no matter how discouraging things may be, just keep at it day by day and you will see the light. 

Lee Jin-man/AP
Tom Wise, father of gold medal winner David Wise of the United States, watches during the men's halfpipe final at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 22, 2018.

Then there’s American biathlete Emily Dreissigacker, whose parents were Olympic rowers and only let their kids watch TV when the Olympics were on. Their advice for her in Pyeongchang? “Take lasting pictures, not just Snapchats,” said Dreissigacker. And her teammate Susan Dunklee, whose dad was a two-time Olympian in cross-country skiing.

“One of the best pieces of advice he’s always given me was – keep it fun. He held me back a little bit. And I didn’t like being held back at the time.... But he knew what he was doing,” says Dunklee, who last year at age 31 became the first American woman to medal at biathlon World Championships. “I think I would have burnt out and not made it this far in my career if I hadn’t stayed fresh and excited about the sport.”

Instilling a competitive drive

US bobsledder Aja Evans has not only been dreaming of the Olympics since she was a little kid; she’s been surrounded by people who push her to be faster, higher, stronger at everything.

“We used to compete at eating, anything,” says Evans, describing her childhood household. Her dad was the first African-American to win a collegiate national championship in swimming, her uncle and cousin both played Major League Baseball, and her older brother went on to become a defensive tackle in the National Football League. “My brother raced me down the street once – whoever got to the car first got to sit in the front seat – and of course I beat him. But he split his pants on the way down, too, so since then he hasn’t raced me.”

“I think just having that competitiveness and that drive from my family all helped me a lot,” says Evans, a standout track and field athlete in college. “And they’re all so supportive – it was never pressure or anything.”

Evans’s dad never got his kids into swimming. But other athletic parents have become very involved in teaching their progeny to excel in the sport they themselves enjoyed.

If that were an Olympic sport, alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin’s parents probably would take the gold.

Eileen and Jeff Shiffrin, who had raced on the Master’s circuit, started Mikaela’s prodigious career when she was a toddler – pulling her around the living room on skis, according to a recent New Yorker profile. Eileen has been by her side ever since, homeschooling her, accompanying her to races, and analyzing endless videos of the world’s best ski racers, which now – in large part thanks to her parents – include Shiffrin.

“I think [Mikaela] is maybe the best ski racer I’ve ever seen, male or female,” said Bode Miller, the most decorated male alpine skier in America, in the run-up to the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Sharing dreams

Miller predicted two golds for her; others had been talking about four or even five. But between a series of weather delays that crunched the racing schedule, and the emotion and pressure unique to the Olympics, in the end Shiffrin came out with gold, silver, and a fourth in her signature event – the slalom.

But even at the end of an Olympics that didn’t fulfill all the expectations placed on Mikaela by media hype and ski-racing observers, Eileen looked thrilled and Shiffrin praised her parents’ unconditional love.

“I feel like it doesn’t matter what I do on the course, if I just try my best then they’re going to be happy with me,” says Shiffrin, after taking silver in the alpine combined on Thursday. “That’s the most important thing.”

Some are critical of parents who become heavily invested in their children’s athletic careers, saying it can become unclear whose dream is being pursued. But it’s not a bad thing for parent and child to share Olympic dreams, says curler John Shuster, whose team is in the hunt for a gold medal on Saturday – an accomplishment made possible by his mom’s willingness to help babysit his kids so he could train for the Olympics.

“This is as much her dream as it is my dream and she’s Super Nanna,” says Shuster. “My mom always says, at some point your kids’ dreams become your dreams.”


4. Why Estonia moves now to embrace its Russian speakers

The social and political divide between Estonians and the Russian-speakers in their midst dates back to World War II. But today, as Estonia celebrates the centennial of its independence, efforts to bridge that gap are emerging amid a rising sense that disunity is self-defeating. “We’re too small a country,” says one Estonian politician, “for us to be divided into smaller communities.”

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From the banks of the Narva River in Estonia, one can see the Russian flag waving from Ivangorod, a medieval fortress just on the other side. Indeed, the Estonian city of Narva, sitting between the European Union and Russia, is a place where conflicting visions of history – and the world – still play out. Narva’s Russian-speaking residents feel the Soviet army “liberated” Estonia from Nazi Germany in 1944, but Estonians say it began a painful occupation. Narva politicians say NATO’s presence in the Baltic States has created tension with Russia, but Estonians feel comforted by it amid Russian military exercises across the river. But in recent years, the Estonian majority and the Russian-speaking minority have made strides to bridge the gap, particularly as tensions between Moscow and the West have mounted. The government is taking moves to engage Estonia’s Russian-speaking border region through investment and easing requirements for citizenship. And private citizens are building businesses and cultural centers in Narva to foster community, both in Narva itself and with Estonia more broadly.


Why Estonia moves now to embrace its Russian speakers

Marina Kossolopova felt doubly honored. On Wednesday, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid awarded the school choir director a prestigious medal, to honor her contribution to Estonian society. And moreover, the president came here, to her town, a long-neglected Russian enclave on Estonia's eastern border with Russia.

“This attention should have come a long time ago,” says Ms. Kossolopova. Originally from Chelyabinsk, close to the Ural mountains, she’s among Estonia’s estimated 300,000 Russian speakers, most of whom were brought in from the USSR’s four corners in Soviet times. 

Ever since Estonia regained its independence in 1991, many Russian speakers have felt like second-class citizens. This young country, which was occupied most of its history – by the Danes, Swedes, Germans, Russians, and the Soviet regime – has regarded them as more Russian than Estonian, and indeed, the Russian-speaking population has looked eastward more than westward for identity. The situation festered for years, with little progress on integrating the two populations.

But in the past few years, Estonians on both sides of the divide have made strides to bridge the gap, and make the country's Russian-speaking community feel a part of the country in a way they haven't before. The issue has taken on national security significance since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, which raised fears about the Kremlin using its strong media apparatus to divide loyalties among Russian speakers, and threaten national cohesion. 

President Kaljulaid’s visit, on the eve of Estonia's 100th birthday Saturday, is one such bridge-building measure, and marks a “huge symbolic milestone,” says Kristi Raik, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the International Center for Defense and Security in Tallinn. “It shows that Estonia truly treats Narva as part of Estonia and the inhabitants of Narva as part of the Estonian people.”

Changing winds in Estonia

When Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union, it had a transformative effect on the lives of the newly free country's Russian speakers, most of whom had been relocated there from elsewhere in the USSR under Soviet programs. They lost their identity overnight, going from Soviet citizens to former “occupiers” resented by the new Estonian-speaking majority. The war, Soviet occupation, and Stalinist terror left people with an almost existential fear of losing their identity.

This trauma led the new government to take a hard line on the Russian speakers, granting citizenship only to those living in Estonia before 1940 – in other words, very few people – and making candidates for citizenship pass a difficult language test.

The societal divide was mirrored in politics. Estonia's dominant political party was long the center-right Reform Party. Reform politicians made Estonia the first ex-Soviet state to join the eurozone in 2011 but implemented austerity measures that hit Russian speakers particularly hard.

“For years at every election, Reform politicians came up with the same stories: ‘There are Russians and there are Estonians. If you are Estonians you should vote for us, everything coming from the east side is bad,’” says Züleyxa Izmailova, the chair of Estonia’s Green Party.

Feeling disenfranchised, most Russian speakers backed the Center Party. But the Center Party's ties to the Russian ruling party United Russia, in large part due to party co-founder and Tallinn mayor Edgar Savisaar, made it an unacceptable partner for any Estonian party to work with.

But in 2016, Jüri Ratas became party leader and then prime minister after the previous Reform Party office holder failed a no confidence vote and the Center Party entered government for the first time. Mr. Ratas has moved to ease tensions between Estonian speakers and Russian speakers, pledging to ease citizenship rules and invest in the depressed border region’s economy, while also reaffirming Estonia’s commitment to the EU and NATO.

“We’re too small a country for us to be divided into smaller communities,” Ms. Izmailova says.

‘We have to do something about Narva’

From the banks of the Narva River in Estonia, one can see the Russian flag waving from Ivangorod, a medieval fortress just on the other side. Indeed, Narva, the dividing line between the European Union and the Russian Federation, is a place where conflicting visions of history – and the world – still play out. 

Narva residents feel the Soviet army “liberated” Estonia from Nazi Germany in 1944, but Estonians say it began a long painful occupation. Narva politicians say the new NATO presence in the Baltic states has created unnecessary tension with Russia. “But when I hear [Russian] shots and military exercises across the river, I feel safer with NATO," says Katri Raik, director of the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences.

F. Scholz/picture-alliance/dpa/AP
The Narva River flows between the Hermann Castle in Estonia (l.) and the Ivangorod Fortress in Russia (r.).

Here, people tend to listen Russian television. And many admire Vladimir Putin. But Narva residents also have family and friends just across the river in the city of Ivangorod, so they know about the potholed streets and rampant corruption there; they say that moving to Russia is not an option.

Ivan Sergejev, who recently returned to his native Narva from New York to become its city architect, says that what’s needed in Narva is to “create a climate where people feel welcome to live” and the nonprofit sector is more vibrant. Complaining about the lack of cultural venues, Mr. Sergejev spearheaded a move to turn Narva’s many vacant factories into creative industry hubs.

There are signs that is happening. Allan Kaldoja, for example, is replicating a theater model he initiated in Tallinn, where he turned a vacant Soviet factory into a successful theater venue called Vaba Laba. “Mr. Putin helped us by attacking Ukraine, because politicians started saying, ‘Oh yes we have Narva, we have to do something about Narva!’ ” Mr. Kaldoja, a native, says. “Before that nobody really cared.”

Narva’s own Vaba Laba theater, now under construction, is slated to house theater groups from Petersburg and Moscow as well as after-school theater workshops for local children. The offices of the Estonian Integration Foundation, an agency that is promoting the learning of Estonian, is slated to move to Narva at the end of the year, and could move into the Vaba Laba complex, officials say. A new arts residency program at the old Kreenholm factory has brought local folks and artists together, injecting needed life into a depressed neighborhood.

The Estonian president, too, has thrown her weight around Narva. In January she said she’d move her offices here for one month in 2018. She also supports Narva's bid to be nominated European Capital of Culture when it is Estonia's turn to receive the honor in 2024.

“A process has begun,” Kaljulaid said in Narva on Jan. 23. “The people of Narva have found themselves as a community, and the people of Tallinn want to help the people of Narva function as a community like everyone else in Estonia does.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff


Drivers of change

5. East St. Louis hometown girl makes good, recording the good she sees

This last piece is kind of meta: It’s a difference-maker profile of a woman whose work is all about telling the stories of the difference-makers around her.

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A drive around East St. Louis can be a harsh reminder of the travails of the once-prosperous city. Interstates carve through without inviting traffic into the downtown. Every block has boarded-up buildings. But there also are 110 operating churches here. There’s a riverfront park that offers the only unobstructed view of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, a museum of African and Caribbean art – and a tremendous spirit. For Charmaine Savage, it was the dissonance between the city’s negative image and her childhood memories of a thriving and safe place that compelled her to move home in 2014 after a Navy and civil service career. Here, after coping with a serious illness, she had an epiphany: She would publish a positive-news magazine about her town. She launched I Am EStL in 2016 with an issue featuring city natives, among them Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks and young local artists. The quarterly, now mostly break-even, is a magnifying glass for the good that exists across the social spectrum, “telling the story that goes against the mythology,” as one academic puts it. “We need for people to see how amazing we are,” says Ms. Savage. “I’m out to prove we are … the best of the best.”


East St. Louis hometown girl makes good, recording the good she sees

Charmaine Savage wouldn’t want to start a conversation about herself with grim stereotypes of East St. Louis, Ill., her hometown. But her effort to rebrand this struggling city across the Mississippi River from St. Louis with a magazine featuring nothing but success stories wouldn’t stand out so much without acknowledgment of the state of affairs here.

A once-prosperous manufacturing, rail, and shipping center, East St. Louis had a peak population of 80,000 around 1950. That has dwindled to about 25,000 because of deindustrialization, white (and black) flight, violent crime that gives it one of the highest murder rates in the United States, poverty, and corruption.

But that doesn’t account for a tremendous spirit that populates the very air, Ms. Savage says. This town has nurtured African-American icons – from jazz great Miles Davis and singer Tina Turner, to Olympic track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee and renowned sports and race sociologist Harry Edwards, to former US Ambassador to the United Nations Donald McHenry.

It’s the dissonance between the negative image and Savage’s childhood memories of a thriving and safe place for working-class and professional African-Americans that influenced her to move home after a Navy and civil service career.

“This is [what] really hurts me: that we weren’t encouraging people to go learn, earn, and return,” Savage says, tearfully choking up in an interview, as she does frequently in public appearances describing her mission. “Had we known that we would end up with the conditions we have right now, maybe we would have done things a little differently.”

Savage herself returned to live her life a little differently: celebrating, memorializing, and reigniting the spirit of the place by publishing I Am EStL, a high-quality magazine.

Savage is neither a journalist nor a businesswoman with start-up experience. Achieving the rank of commander in the Navy as a human resources professional, she raised a family based in various places from Norfolk, Va., to San Diego, and did a tour of duty in Iraq before retirement.

She says her East St. Louis homecoming in September 2014, on the heels of a life-threatening illness, was a time of searching that culminated in a spiritual epiphany.

Savage says she sat quietly for days while settling in, “waiting for God” to drop an idea on her about how to help her distressed hometown. The answer was not intuitive: Publish a good-news magazine about East St. Louis.

“God definitely spoke to me,” Savage says, “because I didn’t know the first thing about magazine publishing.”

The first issue

Bankrolled by her retirement income and getting a crash course from an old high school classmate who now publishes magazines in Atlanta, Savage launched I Am EStL in January 2016.

The first issue was 44 full-color pages featuring East St. Louis natives, among them city Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks, US Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois, and local high school artists.

Told she could save money on that first issue by using staples instead of higher-quality, glue-based “perfect binding,” she bristled with a perfectionist’s sensibility: “I’m not putting a staple in my magazine ever. I’ll stop printing it before I do that.”

Today she smiles at that, saying it symbolizes her deep faith in East St. Louis: “We need for people to see how amazing we are, the excellence we put into the world and how we show up in the world. I’m out to prove we are excellent, the best of the best.”

Churches amid ruins

A drive around her city can be a harsh reminder of the visual evidence that makes accomplishing her goals so difficult. A tangle of Interstates carves through the city grid without inviting traffic into the downtown, which is full of the ruins of stately classic 19th-century buildings. Traffic lights, where they exist, largely do not work, and every block has burned-out or boarded-up buildings.

And yet, there are 110 operating churches and gestures of marketing for visitors, such as a riverfront park that offers the best and only unobstructed view of the St. Louis Gateway Arch; the Katherine Dunham Museum of African and Caribbean art objects; and the Sacred Sites of the East St. Louis race riots, a self-guided tour of the course of a white mob massacre of blacks in 1917. (Savage is a member of the commission that created markers for the tour.)

And so the magazine is a powerful magnifying glass for the good that does still exist, says Andrew Theising, an associate professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and author of “Made in USA: East St. Louis.” “East St. Louis is a place that’s easy to criticize, so something that sings praise is important and essential.”

The quarterly magazine is distributed free of charge through local businesses, and the online version is also free; but nearly 200 subscribers pay $10 an issue to receive it first. Advertising has grown from none in the first issue to several placements in the latest. With paid freelance writers, graphic artists, and professional photographers, as well as printing – which is done in South Korea via electronic layout and delivered in 12 days or fewer – Savage’s cost per issue is about $5,000.

At first, she says, “I was just willy-nilly [with a credit card]; I had so much fun doing it. But then I started thinking, ‘Charmaine, you know better than this. We don’t have to travel all over the country getting [interviews for] these stories; we’ve got enough people locally to tell their stories.’ ” She also realized that advertising sales were a must.

The operation now generally breaks even with each issue.

The full social spectrum is always featured – such as a federal judge, the couple that runs a longtime family-owned fish market, a county clerk, movie director, handbag designer, graphic artist, tailor, chemist, public works plant manager, chief executive officer. All those profiled work here or are current or former residents (though many baby boomers can’t say they were “born and raised” here, because black people weren’t allowed to give birth in local hospitals until after the civil rights era).

Circulation is small, but 500 to 900 copies of each issue are snapped up quickly.

What others are saying

The magazine “was a shock to my system when I saw it ... the idea, the quality of the magazine,” marvels Charlotte VM Ottley, owner of an advancement and development consultancy in New York, Atlanta, and St. Louis. It reminded her of her own effort to rebrand the city years ago, and she was heartened to see Savage’s idea launch so impressively.

Ms. Ottley now serves on the board of the nonprofit Savage has formed to support rebranding activities such as the magazine and an annual community award for East St. Louis achievers.

Savage is “telling the story that goes against the mythology of East St. Louis,” says Jack Kirkland, an associate professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. That, he says, helps his students feel very comfortable volunteering and researching in the city.

Savage’s own choices vouch for that comfort. She and her husband, an architect, became urban pioneers, taking over an old bread bakery where they now live and work. It’s in the Lansdowne area of the city, which has its own share of blight. But, she says, “What people don’t realize is there are a lot of [successful professionals] like my husband and I that live in the city.”

In fact, she says, they don’t realize how much material she has for the magazine. Sometimes her biggest challenge is cutting good stories for lack of space. “I’m struggling with, who do I not put in the magazine? I won’t run out of material.”

For more, visit IAmEStL.com.

How to take action

UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. Below are links to three groups that tap volunteers to help with communications efforts:

School the World facilitates a good education for those living in the rural villages of Central America. Take action: Assist in developing partnerships between this organization and media outlets.

Supporting Kids in Peru helps disadvantaged youths realize their right to an education. Take action: Be a communications officer for this program.

Romania Animal Rescue aids animals from poor communities, with a focus on spay and neuter services. Take action: Write up accounts and submit them to news outlets to promote this group’s work.


The Monitor's View

Helping the world’s largest group of homeless

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A crisis in the heart of Africa – 4.1 million people now displaced in Congo – has worsened to the point that the European Union and the United Nations announced this week that they are seeking to double foreign aid to the country. An estimated 7 million Congolese are considered to be “food insecure.” Last October, the UN refugee agency declared a Level 3 emergency in parts of Congo, the highest possible ranking. The forces of President Joseph Kabila have killed nearly a dozen people in peaceful protests in recent months, and the violence of the militias make it difficult for foreign groups to reach the millions of people in need. In recent weeks, the continent has seen democratic successes with the ouster of corrupt presidents in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Now it may be Congo’s turn. Its people have a strong national identity and a desire for duly elected leaders. With help, they might become the next success story in Africa.


Helping the world’s largest group of homeless

Despite the media attention on them, neither the Syrian civilians who have fled war in the Middle East nor the Rohingya Muslims who have fled repression in Myanmar are the world’s largest group of displaced people. That record goes to 4.1 million people dislodged in Congo.

The little-noticed crisis in the heart of Africa has worsened over the past year to the point that the European Union and the United Nations announced this week that they are seeking to double foreign aid to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is four times as large as France. An estimated 7 million Congolese are considered to be “food insecure.” Only 1 in 7 earns more than $1.25 a day. Last October, the UN refugee agency declared a Level 3 emergency in parts of Congo, the highest possible ranking.

The country’s woes stem from two major conflicts less than two decades ago that have left a governance vacuum. Some 120 rebel groups are fighting either for ethnic dominance or to control the country’s vast mineral wealth, which is estimated at $24 trillion.

Yet the biggest crisis is whether President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled for 16 years and remains very unpopular, intends to hold elections and step down as he has promised. In recent months, his forces have killed nearly a dozen people in peaceful protests called by the Roman Catholic secular leaders. Another protest is called for Feb. 25. (Also this week, Switzerland imposed sanctions on 14 allies of Mr. Kabila who might have stashed ill-gotten wealth in Swiss banks.)

Both the political crisis and the violence of the militias make it difficult for foreign groups to reach the millions of people in need. The situation in Congo is not the image that Africans want to project to the world just when they are hailing the version of a fictional and wise African nation, Wakanda, in the Marvel movie “Black Panther.”

In recent weeks, the continent has seen two democratic successes with the ouster of corrupt presidents in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Now it may be Congo’s turn. Its people have a strong national identity and a desire for duly elected leaders. With more foreign assistance, they might be able to be the next success story in Africa.


A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Healed of grief after the loss of a beloved pet

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Today’s contributor shares how her grief “vanished like fog in the sunshine” when she gained a fuller understanding of the immortal, spiritual nature of life created by God.


Healed of grief after the loss of a beloved pet

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Our daughter was the last of our three children to leave home after the Christmas holiday this past year. Saying goodbye to her was especially difficult because it happened to be the same day we also said goodbye to our beloved 13-year-old Labrador retriever, Dash. I’d thought I was well adjusted to being a first-time empty nester this year, but losing Dash left an unexpected hole in the house. Suddenly our home felt vacant and quiet without him in his usual spot.

For several days I was overcome with grief whenever I thought about Dash. A memory or a simple glance out the window to the grove where we’d buried him on our property brought on the tears.

The grief felt overwhelming. But I’ve experienced the effectiveness of prayer in addressing all kinds of circumstances, and I knew this was no different. I wanted to understand more clearly the nature of our dog’s life. I’ve learned in Christian Science that the real identity of everyone, and of all animals, is the spiritual creation and expression of God, everlasting Life. Because God is infinite, His creation must be, too. I had been affirming this spiritual fact shared in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy: “God is the Life, or intelligence, which forms and preserves the individuality and identity of animals as well as of men” (p. 550).

Then I received an email from a friend that included an article called “Pets and endless life,” from the Christian Science Sentinel (Tom Blair, Feb. 3, 2014). The author’s experience was very similar to mine, and I found comfort in the ideas he shared, including pointing to a spiritual definition of “burial” that’s given in the Glossary of Science and Health (see p. 582). Rather than thinking of burial as the disappearance of something we hold dear, the description points to the importance of submerging thought in divine Spirit, in the immortal and spiritual nature of life.

This gave me a specific way to handle each wave of sadness that made me feel as though I had forever lost something precious to me. Instead, I made an effort to immerse my thoughts in the true, spiritual, and therefore always present aspects of Dash’s identity. I thought about his energy for life, his exuberance, his sweet devotion to our family, and his ready acceptance of other dogs, people, and even the deer that regularly walked through our property. These were qualities that couldn’t be buried or lost.

As I continued praying to feel completely free from the grief, I thought of a soft white coat hanging in my closet. It was a beautiful coat, but I realized that its value wasn’t in just hanging there. Its usefulness and animation came from being worn. This helped me see that Dash’s outside package – which was also a soft, cuddly white coat – wasn’t the substance of his identity. It was his unique compilation of qualities that animated him and would be forever a part of his being as God’s creation.

As my thoughts shifted in this spiritual direction, I found the peace I had been seeking. From that point on, I felt uplifted each time I thought about Dash. I found I could look at photos of him and talk about him without feeling even a twinge of the former sadness. The grief simply vanished like fog in the sunshine.

As difficult as it is to lose something or someone close to us, grief doesn’t need to irreversibly grip us. As this statement I had been studying from the Bible that week assures us, “to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).



From migrant to middle class

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Teacher Michelle Castillo Salazar moves among her fourth-grade students in Donna, Texas. Ms. Salazar is also a mother of three and a homeowner. When the Monitor first met her 17 years ago, such a future was anything but certain. The then-17-year-old was a third-generation migrant, traveling twice yearly with her farmworker father, mother, and two sisters between Illinois and Texas. School counselors guided Salazar into an internet-based federal program designed to put migrant teens on track for college, and she worked – with some detours – toward her degree in education. “Every obstacle I faced, every step I took, it was all to get to the life that I have today,” she says. For a gallery of images and more of her story, click the blue button below.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( February 26th, 2018 )

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Thanks, as always, for being here today. As we look to next week, we're talking with our Mideast writers about the assault by Syrian government forces on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus, as civilian casualties there rise sharply. On Monday we’ll also look at how more than a few Germans want to disrupt political coalition-building in Berlin in order to fend off growing disillusionment with the political establishment.

Monitor Daily Podcast

February 23, 2018
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